Asking Questions?

One of the paperback books that moves with me from room to room in my townhouse is The 7 Powers of Questions by Dorothy Leeds. It is the second copy or maybe the third; the first one destroyed in a coffee cup spill years ago and the second loaned and not returned. This copy is full of sticky notes, scrapes of paper, several colors of highlighters and something that reminds me of the strength of the right question on every page.

My reasoning is: if extraordinary elders use the last part of living to become introspective and learn to frame wisdom stories from their experiences, the right questions need to be asked and answered. Giving a “think” to what open-ended questions you would ask a friend in your age group would give you a start on the questions to ask yourself. “What were some major life lessons that led you to be the person you are now?” Big complex question, lots of possible answers that may give you a clue to a person’s value system or trauma history. Please do not ask me that question if you want a quick answer.

The other quick reference the book can offer is a chapter titled “the 50 smartest questions.” When mediation was on my career plate, this was a great chapter to review before going into a session with hostile participants. These hostile -to- mediation type- people had the most difficult time engaging in that other important practice–LISTENING. There are also constant teachings about that subject in the book.

A major reason this book is following me from room to room is the workshop/class/seminar that my friend Terri and I are writing with a working title of Civil Conversation. ( THIS IS THE THIRD WORKING TITLE). First working title was “how not to call some one a —-head”. This has become such a huge work in process that if we ever get to teach it we should get news coverage. I am reading books and articles about human nature, implicit bias, and perceptions of social class. Based on all of that, I am thinking we are a doomed  species since we cannot seem to have a conversation about the big important stuff without  becoming defensive or angry and turning off that all-important listening button.

But, in addition to that book, one came into my hand at the Green Valley Ranch branch of the Denver Public Library. In looking over the space where my class will be held in May, my elder squinty eyes spied books to tell you about. How Then Shall We Live by Wayne Muller.

The questions: Who Am I?, What do I love?, How shall I live knowing I will Die?, and my all time altruistic favorite,  WHAT IS MY GIFT TO THE FAMILY OF THE EARTH? Is that an awesome question or what? Really makes the people who can’t have a civil conversation seem a bit small.

At the monthly meeting of the Death Café today, I thought about bringing up that question, but it can wait. There were other people with more pressing questions, but if you are diagnosed with a fatal something or other, that last one would be on your list.

Speaking of the Café, they will have a session next Sunday, the 26th at 3:30 pm at the Tattered Cover on Colfax in Denver to help people fill out some of the planning ahead paperwork around medical care when death is close. The Five Wishes and the Colorado MOST forms will be discussed by Nancy and the other facilitator. If I had a wish for you all, it would be that you attended even one of the sessions to see the sense of community a group of strangers can make in the right atmosphere.

May you answer the questions that need an answer and ask the ones held deep in your heart,









And the Cat Still Sits in the Sun

 When my home was in Taos, New Mexico, my life education was filled with ideas and practices that were new to me. While jobs included being head of a school, working in a bookstore, gallery and museum, my brain was overwhelmed with the creativity of different philosophies, belief systems and the colors of the night sky. Even though my visits to that part of New Mexico started as a teenager, living there full time brought an opening to my senses that changed the way I lived my life.

That special place on the map is where the concept of Mindfulness was introduced to me. If you have never heard of it, or practiced it, now is the time. An elder has the perfect opportunity and wisdom to engage in the concept, and an exceptional elder will soon understand how it helps with your transition to a more introspective life.

The cat I had at the time was named K. C. and was a rescued feral burmese cat from the city. She loved to go outside, and she might bring back a snake or a mouse and drop it at my feet as an offering. But mostly, she stayed inside and spent hours teaching me how to be a good human owner. She was my first cat ever, and we were lucky to find each other. A human friend, much more enlightened than me, sat one day in the rented house on the mesa having tea and we watched the cat sleeping next to one of the huge windows in a patch of sun. She was stretched out and occasionally her tail would twitch or her ears wiggle, but that animal was as relaxed as an old shoe.

That is when my first lesson in mindfulness began. Being in the moment. Being silent and observing everything around you. Hearing the hum of the refrigerator, feeling the warmth of the sun, watching the cat’s breath move her chest up and down. This was not a formal meditation, but a way to pay attention to your life before those individual moments become the past. After numerous lessons that helped me be with the pleasant or unpleasant, I could shift into the mindfulness mode much more easily. It is staying out of the past and the future and totally being with each of your breaths..right now.

Two suggestions for books: Wherever you Go, There You Are Jon Kabat Zinn and Minding the Body, Mending the Mind by Joan Borysenko. The Mindfulness Project is interesting to read about and the MindUp program for kids in the UK is outstanding.

Being mindful on your journey to becoming an extraordinary elder has an extra bonus. How many hours and days do you think we all wasted in being busy, multitasking, making money, spending money, thinking too much about things we could not change and waiting for our life to start? Now that there is less time forward than behind us, we can savor every part of life if we train ourselves to slip effortlessly into mindfulness. (the downside is that people may come over to you in public and tell you that you are drooling)  just kidding.

One of my ways of being resilience is to remember that you can handle what ever comes to you–until the moon hits the earth it is not the end of the world. You keep doing what you can. That translates into the phrase, and the cat still sits in the sun. The cat now is named Katniss Cleopatra and as an abused cat it took her over a year to relax enough with me to sit in the sun with me in the room.  But now she does, and she trusts me enough to allow me to watch her breathe.

Teach Peace